Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Scariest Ride Of My Life: Oregon, MTB style

So, last year after my first big-girl tri (Nation's Tri, 2010), the Team in Training coaches advised us to take the fall and just do fun stuff.  The coach told me to not run (as I had been suffering all summer) and maybe try something like mountain biking.

I first took my hybrid up to West Hartford's Reservoir, and decided to try the extra off road bit that went beyond the paved path.  That was when I discovered the miles of unpaved trails at the Reservoir.  On that first day, I kicked the butt of two macho guys on fancy MTBs who thought they were the hottest of the hot until they got their tails whupped in the first climb by the chick on the hybrid.

The hybrid was all wrong for real trail riding, though- the wheels were too slick and the handle geometry just wrong.  So I borrowed my brother's MTB.  Eventually, I traded him a computer and kept the mountain bike for mine, all mine.

And then we moved to Oregon.  I spent the summer riding roads with the tri club and Hutch's and Martin and some new friends like UberCyclist and SuperCruiser and all by myself... and finally, along came fall.

Today dawned bright and blue and clear.  I'd been doing some light running so I was feeling pretty hearty.  Well, yesterday I had my first TRX class ever and our tri coach kicked my butt.  Wow.  I think maybe I might have strained that right leg muscle a little more than I thought because those plank moves... ahoy.  But still, today = bright and clear and it would have been a sin to stay inside.  Besides, I also have a sermon to finish for tomorrow.  While the research is all done, I just couldn't think of a focus.  Often, I find the bike ride offers clarity to sermons.  So I frequently go riding or sometimes running to bust out of a homiletic rut.

Today I went to Dilliard.  I have written before of my love for the Dilliard trail- mostly flat with a little rolling that makes you feel like rockstar.

M dropped me off, and I climbed onto my trusty Trek and discovered that Dilliard had transformed itself into a mountain.  A giant, scary mountain.  That first gentle incline was a sheer rock wall and the gravel spread was actually composed of ginormous boulders.  At least, that was what I thought.  Thus began the Scariest Ride of My Life.

Once I had hiked up that first incline and found a relatively flat space, I got back on and started rolling.  Did you know that my friendly Dilliard Street trail is really a narrow rut jutting out over a steep hill covered in rocks and lush greenery full of mountain lions and downed trees?  Let's just say that the hill, which I previously found charming, unnerved me a little today.  Terrified, even.

I had to pull over twice to allow small children and their parents to pedal their own MTBs past me.  The six-year-old little boy shouted something that sounded like, "WHEEEEEE, YAY, DADDY!  HI, LADY!"  But I'm sure he meant, "WATCH OUT FOR THE HAIRPIN SWITCHBACK TURN AND THE GIANT BOULDERS!  WE"RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"

These Oregon children are so charming.

In the end, I rode to Dilliard and back, and then took the other side of the loop and back.  Hey, guess what?  It's a loop trail, after all!  Yeah!

Oregon MTB riding is totally unlike East Coast (ahem, Connecticut) riding.  What I used to think was a MTB ride is actually what Oregon considers the kiddie park.  I'm getting schooled in a whole new level of riding out here.  It definitely shakes me out of my comfort zone.  It's unlike road riding or any sort of trail riding I've done before- where I was used to hitting a zone and just zooming high speed because there were no bumps or serious drops to worry about, I find my hands locked on those bars, steering a little twitchily while I navigate around that tree stump and try to keep my eyes focused on the path and not on the 15 foot drop to my left.

I'm sure as I get acclimated, I'll relax and get used to it.  And Dilliard will be back to my favorite trail in no time.

Oh, and by the way... yeah, I think that sermon focus came through after all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A New Sense


It happened again.  The latest "brand new cochlear implant, watch this person hear for the first time ever" video.  Sure, you can watch it here. (Disclaimer: The woman in the video is a real person who also keeps a blog (which I won't link to unless she is ok with that, but you can find it through the video links), and she seems brainy and passionate and positive- all things which make for interesting human beings, and which do go to show that different people have different experiences.  End disclaimer.) 

The video was posted by a lovely, passionate friend of mine who posts really interesting stuff.  She's posted a lot on the very interesting, if baffling, Occupy Movement. 

I hate these cochlear implant turn-on videos.   They make me angry. (Even if the person in the video seems to have a great time.)   I have a cochlear implant, and indeed it has transformed the way I live my life.  I can talk on a phone, hear people from another room, and watch TV or listen to the radio without needing captions.  (I still use captions, though, mostly because I am exceptionally lazy.)  

But I never had that moment of bliss at first activation.  Sound was not beautiful.   Indeed, for months afterwards, I really couldn't understand sound at all.  I was implanted at 20 after a long, slow progressive loss.  I suspect that by the time I was implanted, I had lost most of my memory of sound.  Besides, there were new noises in the world.  Computers make a high pitched hissing sort of sound.  I was just a little kid when I started losing my hearing, and we didn't have computers then.  I never knew that computers made that sound.  When I was "turned on", at first, I couldn't hear people speaking over the noise of the computers.  It took me months to figure out what "loud" and "soft" was.  

I remember watching a singer on TV and asking my mother if she was singing high or low.  For a musician like me, this was enraging.  It took months of playing scales to begin to re-learn pitch.  

I hate the videos of activation because it seems to show that the patient suddenly understands everything.  Comprehension is far from instant.  Thankfully, my dad had warned me that I might be turned on and experience a wave of "What the hell have I done to myself?"  I was indeed turned on and had precisely that thought.  

Sound sucked.  

It was a huge let down from what I was expecting.  Really, over the last 12 years, my most common thought about the miracle of sound has been, “Are you serious?  How did you people ever evolve?”  A close second is the overwhelming urge I have to smash those annoying little serenity fountains… which hearing person ever decided that the constant fake bubble of running water was soothing? 

Forget "I love you".  I still remember the first word I understood.   Figuring out what speech was took literally months. Cars driving by or the dishwasher running sounded exactly like a voice.    But one day, shortly before I left for England, I was at dinner with my family, and my sister asked for the ketchup.  That was the first word I understood, "ketchup".  (Sometimes I wonder if my 9-years-younger sister knows that her voice was the first one I ever really understood...)  

In England, I continued to struggle to understand what speech was... until one day, I was traveling with friends in Scotland.  We were hosteling around on a bus tour, and we were in a town, surrounded in a pub by tall burly men with really nice biceps.  (Yes, I do love that about Scotland.)  And suddenly, it was like something clicked, and abruptly, I began to understand speech.  One moment, I couldn't, and it was literally like someone flipped a switch.  To this day, the Scottish accent sounds like home to my ear.  

But simply having a cochlear implant did not put me on level footing with anyone else.  Sometimes I get frustrated with people who try to explain racial discrimination to me, with the assumption that because my skin is white, I don’t understand what it’s like to be a minority.  I would argue that as a deaf person, I know exactly what that is like to be one in a million. 

I’ve been watching Occupy Wall Street news as the protests have spread and gone global.  I’m not jumping on board the protest conga line for a few reasons.  First and foremost, I’m a priest who serves as a police chaplain.  I have always seen my role as choosing my public causes very carefully.  “My” officers and deputies deserve to feel like I’m a safe person.  There are some causes I am willing to put my name and face to- like marriage equality which has a definite goal and which I see as the great civil rights cause of my era. 

But Occupy?  I am not troubled by the fact of protests, but I am troubled by the lack of direction.  I am confused that the protestors don’t seem to be asking for anything, but just expressing their discontent.  Expressions of discontent are fine, but at some point, we need to move beyond, to begin to ask for payback.  The Civil Rights movement had specific goals:  Separate but not equal is not good enough.  We want to be served equally at a lunch counter.  We want to ride sitting down on the bus.  The Marriage Equality movement, I believe, will be successful because it also has specific goals:  Domestic partnership is separate and unequal.  We want marriage, to marry the person we love and to share the benefits society offers a couple who agree to live together under a formal contract. 

Occupy lacks that focus.  But I did see an interesting picture of a sign in my Facebook feed… it’s a common theme.  The person wrote of how she was in debt from school and would have to take on $136,000 in law school debt if she were to follow her dreams, and how she no longer believes in the American Dream.  You know, that idea that we can all achieve our dreams and live in comfort if we just work hard enough? 

I guess that if Occupy wins its undefined cause tomorrow and life somehow in some unknown way gets better, they can achieve their American dream of opportunity for the qualified. 

The American Dream has always been a lie to me.  As a deaf person, I knew from the days I was a teenager that certain career paths were irrevocably closed to me.  As I went into grad school and experienced the discrimination of the work place, I learned first hand that it is legal- completely legal- to deny me employment if you believe- without burden of proof- that I would be dangerous to my fellow employees.  People, please... I'm a chaplain.  I'm about as dangerous as a kitten, the really cute fluffy kind.  

I’m not even dangerous on the tri course.  (Well, except in Nation’s when I almost took out that poor Army girl, but I was getting hooked in the handlebars by a clumsy person behind me, so I’m off the hook, right?) 

I knew a long time ago that this country would never offer me equality.  I knew a long time ago that it would never matter how hard I worked… I’d always be a less-than. 

I hate knowing that it’s legal for me to be a less-than, and that it seems like I will never be on equal footing as people in my position who have less education and certification… because they are not less-thans, and I am.  

I wonder how anyone ever makes peace with that sort of injustice.  


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Healing and Waiting Stinks

Saturday my tri club had a little watch party for the Kona Ironman.  (It was also a fundraiser for one of our teammates who is heading to New Zealand for the World Championships next year.  I hang out with hardcore people like that now.)  I scheduled myself to ride in the middle of the bike leg (because bikes are the most fun, closely followed by transition.  So far, the most useful stuff I have learned has been watching other people transition!), and ended up meeting a lot of new friendly people.

Tri club (and Eugene) in general has been fun just for the sheer number of friendly people round town.  I think we've made more friends here in one summer than we did in CT in three years.  (Sorry, CT.)

Mackenzie Madison, one of our local Eugene pros, was there on her bike.  Another friend, John H, who is the guy going to the World Sprint Championships next year, described her actions as "punishing her bike". I think that is really quite an accurate description, and I say only that I bow to her.  I'd love to get a chance to watch her race some day!  Yes, Ms. Madison, I may go all fangirl geek on you.  Sorry!  

It was the first time doing any sort of real strenuous activity since the crash, which is going down in the books as the most annoying little crash ever.  Seriously, a curb causes all this trouble?  I had the interesting experience of watching my bruise change colors during the 1 1/2 hours I actually rode, with a number of stretch breaks.  My hip was not too happy with the movement, and I don't think the compression of the bike shorts helps.  On the bright side, I'm hopeful that getting blood moving around will be useful and helpful for the ultimate goal of "getting back to normal".  I mean, how many weeks can I spend heating and massaging a giant bruise for?

Meanwhile, I took the chance to run through a few little diagnostics on my bike.  Braking, shifting, cranks, pedals... all were pretty much okay (a few minor adjustments).  Ultimately, it made a little once-over trip to the nice guys at Hutch's who cleared it for the road.  They also confirmed my suspicions of a bent large chain ring, but the bend is very minor.

So it's all back to me having some serious conversations with a recalcitrant hematoma.  For whatever reason my body is not responding to my demands of overnight healing.  But I think that I'll have to work up to that via a week or so of yoga and pilates to stretch out all that sore tight crampy area.  

One aunt is pretty concerned about late-breaking blood clots, which I have to admit I have witnessed, so it's not a smart thing to push it too much.  On one hand, I have a bruise.  On the other hand, it's a hematoma that at one point was the size of a watermelon.  It's really annoying to be feeling better in most of one's body, but to have really stubborn painful sore spots in just one or two areas.  I'd feel a lot more legit about this whole thing if I were feeling tip-to-toe crummy like I was a few weeks ago. Instead, it's just waiting and allowing the bruise to heal and the swollen bit to recede.

Yeah, I'm excellent at waiting.

Lucky for me, UberCyclist is dangling the carrot of playing with bikes and installing new bike computers.  At least, that offers me something to work towards.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Winter Plans

So, I've been behaving like a vegetable the past few weeks.  Kinda like this one...
Actual eggplant that came in our farm box.  He looks both disheveled and startled.  Note also the large schnoz.
It's been a little painful just to walk and sit... but I'm hopeful I can start slow jogs soon.  The bruising is resolving.  I've taken a few pictures, and even sent one to my mother.  Several friends have asked for the pictures, so I cropped them as tightly as possible, and discovered...

Yes, there's a definite limit to the sort of picture I will share with anyone who didn't give birth to me.  There's just no way to show off the awesome bruise with my dignity intact.  Sorry, fans.  Here...
It's actually looking kind of like this.  Just imagine red and purple where you see the blue, and blue and purple edging where you see the red.  Yeah, my bruise really does look kind of like the Crab Nebula.  Isn't Hubble cool?


The bruise goes from the top of my hip to about three inches over my knee, and wraps from mid-front-thigh to mid-back-thigh.  After a few days, a white line appeared in the shape of the curb, which is slowly filling in with mottled colors as I heat it with a heating pad and massage it every night.

The lump has gone from watermelon size to grapefruit size... but a large, California backyard grapefruit,  like our friend Gil who has citrus trees in his backyard has.
This is one of Gil's trees- it's a grapefruit tree right next to a lemon tree.


This is about the size of three of my fists.  And about the size of the lump on my leg.  

So I am setting my goals for the winter.  Among the measurable goals, I want to drop the last pounds of CT pudge by spring. So I'll be a lean, mean, machine.  Which means I'll still be a squishy, cuddly, ball of charm.  I'm a priest, people.  I don't think I'm good at mean.  It's why I do triathlon, and not rugby.  I like being able to hug my competitors and take joy in their accomplishments.  

Oh, that is such a fib.  I get mad when I get beat, especially by M!    

This Saturday, I'll be changing out the skewer on my bike to the indoor trainer skewer.  We are joining our tri club's training center for the winter, for computrainer and fitness classes.  We will also get some swim time in over the winter, so about 3 or so workouts a week, formally.  I should also do some serious Pilates or yoga at home, because after this crash, I realized that I haven't been stretching enough.  Back in Arlington when I was riding everywhere on my 30+ lb hybrid bike and having NO crashing whatsoever, I was a lot more flexible.  Hmmm... this will probably be an exercise in pride-bustin', as I discover just how tight I've become.  (But my quads and calves are awesome.)  

I also want to do some trail running and maybe some MTB riding on the "easy" trails, which are "crazy steep" by East Coast standards.  

If I do any trainer riding at home, it will probably be while I watch TV.  I like to ride while watching cheesy sci fi and Bollywood.  Don't judge.  Some people vacuum their house in their skivvies!    To each their own.  

I wonder what you are doing this winter?